- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Predicting an NFL team's record in April is like predicting the first round of a mock draft.
There are going to be adjustments and changes.
So when I predict the Carolina Panthers will be 8-8 today, that doesn't mean that will be the prediction in May after the draft or in August after training camp.
It just means that's what I believe is a realistic expectation with a new wide receiver corps, uncertainty at left tackle and along the offensive line, and an unproven secondary.
That could change if the Panthers get a difference-maker in the first or second round of the draft. Or if free agent wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant begin playing like Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. Or if several of their opponents suffer key injuries as Green Bay did last season with the loss of Aaron Rodgers.
Or if the Panthers suffer a key injury.
By August this may look like an 11-5 team. It also may look like a 7-9 team.
But for now, less than 24 hours after the NFL schedule release, I'm going with 8-8.
Here is a game-by-game look at how I got to that:
Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay -- New coach Lovie Smith will make the Bucs better. But he still has to open the season with Josh McCown or Mike Glennon at quarterback against one of the top front sevens in the NFL. Carolina 17, Tampa Bay 10 (W, 1-0)
Sept. 14 Detroit -- A new coach and a dismal road team. Carolina 24, Detroit 17 (W, 2-0)
Sept. 21 Pittsburgh -- Carolina owner Jerry Richardson modeled his franchise after Pittsburgh's. Right now the model is ahead of the real thing, but barely. Carolina 14, Pittsburgh 13 (W, 3-0)
Sept. 28 at Baltimore -- Blood and guts. Steve Smithgets his revenge against the team with which he hopes to retire and tells whatever cornerback covers him to "Ice Up Son." Baltimore 20, Carolina 13 (L, 3-1)
Oct. 5 Chicago -- Good thing for Cam Newton his left ankle will be fully healed by this one with new Bears defensive end Jared Allen and his 128.5 career sacks staring at him. Carolina 20, Chicago 17 (W, 4-1)
Oct. 12 at Cincinnati -- The beginning of the toughest 18-game stretch of this or any Carolina season. Cincinnati 27, Carolina 20 (L, 4-2)
Oct. 19 at Green Bay -- Unless Aaron Rodgers has another shoulder injury, winning at Lambeau Field might be too much to ask. Green Bay 28, Carolina 21 (L, 4-3)
Oct. 26 Seattle -- Carolina has come close to beating the defending world champions at home the past two seasons.Carolina 14, Seattle 13 (W, 5-3)
Oct. 30 New Orleans -- I don't anticipate another third-quarter monsoon to slow down the Saints at Bank of America Stadium this time. New Orleans 24, Carolina 17 (L, 5-4)
Nov. 10 at Philadelphia -- Funny, a big deal was made about how dreadful Carolina would be after losing its top four receivers. The Eagles lost two better ones in DeSean Jacksonand Jason Avant (Panthers) and the panic button wasn't pushed. Philadelphia 20, Carolina 14 (L, 5-5)
Nov. 16 Atlanta -- I'm still not convinced Atlanta has upgraded enough on defense to win consistently on the road.Carolina 24, Atlanta 20 (W, 6-5)
Nov. 23 Bye -- A much-needed breather after that stretch.
Nov. 30 at Minnesota -- This one will be played outdoors at the University of Minnesota home field while the Vikings' new stadium is being built. The average temperature for that day, according to Google, is 33 degrees. Brrr. Minnesota 20, Carolina 17 (L, 6-6)
Dec. 7 at New Orleans -- The Saints have averaged 38 points a game at home against Carolina in their last three meetings. New Orleans 31, Carolina 21 (L, 6-7)
Dec. 14 Tampa Bay -- The Bucs still have Josh McCown or Mike Glennon at quarterback. Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 14 (W, 7-7)
Dec. 21 Cleveland -- It's Cleveland in December when the Browns are planning for what pick they will have in the 2015 draft.Carolina 38, Cleveland 12 (W, 8-7)
Dec. 28 at Atlanta -- The Falcons had five straight winning records before last season. Carolina has never had two straight. Atlanta 24, Carolina 20 (L, 8-8)